Wine is fun.  Talking about wine is all part of the enjoyment.  Trying to classify wine in some way is important for anybody who takes their wine buying seriously – you want to know beforehand that what you’re buying is good stuff AND that you’ll enjoy it.

I do have a problem with these schemes that just give you a number or a series of stars – I don’t feel like I’m getting the information I need.  It’s also a bit disturbing when a $15 wine ends up with the same number of points as a $50 wine – what does that tell us?

So in the pages of this blog I’m developing what I think is a new classification scheme which aims to be simple, but at the same time adds some context to the classification itself.

The overall classification will depend on the three classic factors for a wine – colour, smell and taste.  The value for money component comes from a direct comparison of wines in the same general price bracket.  Let’s start with colour.

Colour – red wines

One of the most interesting characteristics of wine is colour. Colour says a great deal about the grape varieties, where the wine comes and even how it is made. But how do you classify the colour?

For red wines, for me there are three basic colour “themes”:

  • Bright red which you can see in wines like Pinot Noir,
  • Tending towards purple in heavier wines,
  • Those with a hint of brown usually from age.

The chart below gives an indication as to what I mean.

Colour themes for red wine

Colour themes for red wine

My view is that for red wines, the colour would lie somewhere between these three.

Colour is only one of the visual aspects. The other two that I regard as important are clarity and intensity.

Clarity is all about cloudiness – is the wine clear – does it have that sparkle? Or is there a dullness to it?

Intensity is all about depth of colour. Two wines may be red, but one will appear darker because its colour is far more intense.

Colour – white wines

Continuing with the theme of the colour of wine – white wine. In my experience there are two main colour themes, and then a much rarer third theme.

The first two is the spectrum of colour between wines that are essentially without colour to those that are deep gold.

Imagine if you can a hot day – temperatures into the high 30 degrees celsius. It’s lunch time in Florence or McLaren Vale and where do you go? To an ice cold bottle of Pinot Grigio – steeped in condensation, crystal clear, a steely, slightly acidic but refreshing taste – and no colour in the wine through that bright sunlight.

Another scenario – a warm evening at the end of summer, with a hint of autumnal bonfire smoke in the wind. An aged chardonnay, gloriously complex vanilla and fruit flavours, and the colour of burnished gold – thick, luscious wine that clings to the glass and your memories.

And that third theme, which I have found in the local wines of Greece, Cyprus and Portugal – a very subtle hint of green. It’s another scorching day at a taverna down by the beach – perfect for fish mezze and white wine – with a hint of the colour of the sea.

The chart below gives you an idea as to what I mean.

The colours of white wine

The colours of white wine

The smell of wine

Part of the fun of wine drinking is waffling on to wine loving friends about the latest great bottle of something you just quoffed over a steak at La Tuttichia’s – or some such place. But could you go any further than “it was a great bottle of wine”? Could you actually describe why it was so good? The truth is that most people can’t and for the very good reason that it’s actually very hard to define in unambiguous language why something is good. Most of us have just never been trained to do that kind of thing.

Similarly, it doesn’t really help if you come up with something like “it had the most fantastic bouquet of Cabernet Sauvignon”. Wine made from the same grape variety can taste very different depending on the region the wine is from, the terrior, the year and the style of the winemaker. For proof look no further than Chardonnay which is a true wine chameleon – from something light and fruity to the most elegant wine of great complexity and length.

So what can you do? Well most wine evaluators will have grown up with the idea of comparing the smell of wine to odours that we might be familiar with. This is a good example from the Dan Murphy’s website describing a Henschke Henry’s Seven Shiraz Grenache Viognier:

This blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Viognier is a relatively recent addition to Henschke’s impressive range. Typically fragrant plum and raspberry aromas, followed by a velvety palate with rich fruit flavours. A fruit bomb!

So lots of fruit there – plum and raspberries – do you like those flavours in a wine?

But in truth how else could you describe the smell of a wine? You have to refer to aromas that people will be familiar with – we have to have this “common language”.

Up until 1984 there was no real pattern to all this chatter. But in that year a lady called Ann Noble came up with the very clever idea of the Wine Aroma Wheel. This intriguing device gives you a real map, a framework to help you describe wine aromas. If you are not used to doing this kind of thing, the Wine Aroma Wheel is well worth a look. I get the impression that the copyright belongs to Ms Noble, but like so many things you can find it on the web if you want to look.

But it does raise the issue that you have to know what things smell like. Do you know the aroma of lychee? To really appreciate this concept you have to set yourself the task of going out and seeking aromas to experience.

A hint as to what the Wine Aroma Wheel looks like.

A hint as to what the Wine Aroma Wheel looks like.

The other complication in all this is that people do perceive aromas differently, and what some people warm to, others will recoil from. Wines that have a certain minerality on the nose – great white Graves from Bordeaux are a good example – will really divide opinion. Personally I love them, but generally people don’t because they are unusual. I think the Wine Aroma Wheel is a good tool – if for nothing other than to reveal how aligned you and your partner’s wine “noses” really are.

General classification

To date these are the general wine classifications I have developed:

Faulty – for wine that has a technical fault such as Brettanomyces or oxidation.
Turps – wine that isn’t faulty, but is shocking nonetheless. To be drunk only in truly desperate situations, and even then only after couple of bottles of vodka.
Anaesthetic – it’s drinkable but only in those situations where you want to dull the pain of modern living.
Quaffing – finally things begin to look up. A good quaffer is pleasant, very easy to drink, and is great at anytime.
Sound – a well made wine that has some depth and character. A wine that does have something of its own personality.
Fine – Richness, smoothness, complexity, depth, amazing flavours, great mouth feel. A wine you notice.
Exceptional – I don’t expect many wines to fall into the superb category, but it’s for those fine wines that go that bit further.

This gives me the letters: F T A Q S F X